With Ryan Adams now anointed roots-rock's commercial savior, can Will Hoge's ascension linger far behind? Nothing on this CD hasn't been said before, but the vivid intensity with which the singer expresses himself warrants the wider audience Hoge is beginning to receive. (Since taking up music professionally in the late '90s, he has already evoked favorable comparisons to Van Morrison, Springsteen, and every other sweaty barroom bard.) Released independently last year, Carousel, along with Hoge's grassroots evangelism, eventually persuaded Atlantic to climb aboard for the ride. Hoge is just now hitting the late-night talk-show circuit, to the delight of insomniacs everywhere who are frustrated with the music industry's penchant for pandering to the most cosmetically enhanced denominator. Hoge tackles this topic in "Rock and Roll Star," which excoriates the trend toward pushing cheekbones and tattoos over actual talent. More characteristic is "She Don't Care," a three-and-a-half-minute not-quite-love song during which the singer confesses hopeless lust for a woman whose "$55 haircut" puts her way beyond the league of his $3 shirts. Likewise, "Let Me Be Lonely" takes less than three minutes to dismiss an ex-lover whose charms amount to little more than "red lipstick and lies." Equally bracing is the single "Your Fool," showcasing Hoge's knack for busy but engaging vocal phrasing delivered at the top of his perpetually strained lungs, both of which call to mind a young Elvis Costello. Like Costello, Hoge doesn't always do sincerity well. Cases in point include the cloying paean "Wish" and "Heartbreak Avenue," a so-what tale of a 16-year-old runaway. Such sins, however, are more than redeemed in the title cut, a poetic change of pace whose sparse lyrics give the singer an all-too-rare chance to breathe. The way things are going for Hoge, he's going to need such opportunities.
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